Two Cases of Acute Propane/Butane Poisoning in Prison


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Riccardo Rossi, M.D.
Institute of Legal Medicine
Catholic University
Largo F. Vito, 1
00168 Rome


Abstract:  Hydrocarbon inhalation is seldom chosen as a means to commit suicide. This practice is exclusively a prerogative of the prison population; it is, however, only exceptionally found in this environment. The two cases of lethal inhalation of propane/butane gas observed by us over a very short time occurred in this context. Toxicologic analyses were performed by means of gas chromatography (head space) and revealed a propane/butane mixture in all specimens (heart blood, bile, and urine) except vitreous humor. Although fatal arrhythmia posthydrocarbon gas abuse is well known, the concentrations of the two hydrocarbons were sufficient to induce death by asphyxiation and were distributed (fairly) homogeneously in all biological fluids and organs examined, a parameter permitting one to assume that death occurred within a relatively short period of time. The absence of finding in vitreous humor and the trace amount in urine suggests that both men died very quickly.